Photo by Suzie T
My butt is mad at me tonight.
Earlier today, I had a meeting downtown, so I loaded up the stroller - three umbrellas, two kids, one backpack, and a partridge in a pear tree - and hauled all 100 pounds of it up and down North Carolina's hills to the bus stop a half a mile away. We took a quick trip on the bus to my husband's office, and then I deposited the load in my husband's safe hands before heading off to the meeting.
Two hours later, the stroller, boys, backpack, and I took the bus back uptown to kill some time at a museum until my oldest's school let out. Then it was back on the bus, half a mile walk to the school, find son, half a mile walk to the bus stop, bus ride, half a mile walk home. All the while pushing a stroller with two kids and a backpack up and down North Carolina's hills.
My butt is mad.
Most days I don't do quite that much walking, but three afternoons a week we do make that trip on foot/bus to my son's school. It takes me an hour and forty five minutes and involves two miles of pushing two kids on a stroller. I honestly don't mind the walk. I needed more exercise anyway (as my butt can attest). But I am struggling with the hour and forty five minutes.
Choosing to walk to pick my son up from school rather than drive our gas guzzler changes the great convenience of living less than two miles from my son's school into a complete inconvenience.
I often hear the excuse that going green is more expensive. It really doesn't have to be. But it can be much more time consuming.
I'm lucky to have the flexibility to be able to devote an extra hour of my day to a long walk, but most people don't have that luxury. If the choice is between a short commute in the car or a doubled commute by bus, how many people are going to choose the long commute?
But on the other hand, I sometimes think as I'm walking (while pretending to have a conversation with my babbling son), what if the bus stop were a quarter mile from our house and the school instead of a half a mile? What if the bus came every ten minutes instead of every twenty? Those small changes could easily cut the travelling time down to an hour. And an hour is very doable.
I believe individual personal changes are hugely important to the green movement. But the truth is that they can only take us so far. Here in America, our infrastructure has not been designed for a green lifestyle, so until we change the system, we're going to hit a wall.
If we want people to drive less, we need cities and suburbs that are walkable with affordable public transportation. If we want people to support local food systems, we need to make it as convenient to shop at a farmer's market as it is to shop at the corner grocery. If we want our children to spend more time unplugged outdoors, we have to provide accessible green spaces and playgrounds and create safe neighborhoods.
Personal changes matter, but they're not enough. We've got to change the system.
But in the meantime, I'll keep loading up the stroller for the long walk downtown. My butt can use the exercise.